‘I repositioned the company as a quality brand’

Jean Gabriel Pérès, president and CEO, Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, talks to KIM THOMSON about the company, its future plans and more
Peres ... 'Growth for the sake of growth is nonsense'

What is Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts’ (MH&R) future plan for the UAE? Apart from Jumeirah Beach Development, Dubai Pearl, are there any more?
Apart from the projects already signed for the Dubai Pearl, Jumeirah Beach Resort and the deluxe Resort in Ajman, MH&R are currently in negotiations with various owners and developers for potential hotels and/or resorts in Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Abu Dhabi. 

The future infrastructure and zoning of Dubai will allow the same operator to manage multiple hotels that complement each other as opposed to compete. The areas are clearly defined and include Jumeirah Beach, the three Palms, the Lakes area, Sheikh Zayed Road, DubaiLand, Bur Dubai and Deira. They benefit greatly from operating almost fully autonomously and together form a tremendous asset with which to promote Dubai as separate multiple destinations within a unique and vibrant city.

Tell us about your plans for India?
Our plans are to actively develop and manage a network of five to ten hotels in major Indian cities within the next two to three years, each property having between 150 to 250 rooms.
India is renowned for its established traditional palaces and luxury hotels that command a rate of some $300 per night, but it is a very definite market for high class hotels that are 30 per cent less expensive both in room rate and the development cost per room. We already have investors to support our development in this segment.

When will these be ready?
In 2007 or 2008.

Virtually every hotel chain is on an expansion drive. Is there enough demand to fill these new hotels?
For 2004, Government of India statistics show a very healthy 23.5 per cent increase year on year, which is three times the world average and India crossed the magic figure of three million foreign tourists for the first time with a total of a little under 3.5 million. Supply will soon be inadequate to meet the rapidly growing demand from international travellers, and as long as your brand is developing and has strong identity, there will be enough demand to achieve high occupancy for Mövenpick Hotels in India.

What brought MH&R back into positive operating results in 2004?
Mainly the fact that we made the decision, three years ago, to strongly develop our portfolio of hotels in the Gulf, from which we have been reaping the benefits in 2004.

What differentiates the brand from the rest?
We represent the quality that Switzerland epitomises; we are a quality with an enviable reputation for our expertise in hospitality and gastronomy. Switzerland has been the cradle of the best hotel schools in the world for decades and many of our corporate executives and general managers are Swiss and most of the others have been exposed to the Swiss concept of hospitality through their connection with MH&R. We are 'hosts' by nature, and the roots of Mövenpick are in gastronomy, a winning combination in the hospitality business.

You launched a meetings and events planning programme late last year. What strategies are you planning for the MICE business?
MH&R have taken a strategic step to aggressively promote the MICE sector as we believe the market is a growing sector and it is one that enjoys a higher average room rate and more spending power. We have since participated and will continue to participate in multiple MICE exhibitions across Europe. In addition to exhibiting or participating in these specialised trade shows Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts organises a series of annual road shows in both Europe and the Middle East, purely targeting the MICE market. These road shows include various cities in Germany, France, Belgium, the UK, Italy, KSA and the UAE. Investments have also been made in regional sales managers specialised in the MICE markets that are located in Germany, France, the UK and Saudi Arabia.

What factors determine the guest’s experience of a hotel? Hotel architecture, food, service, beds – what are your watchwords?
A combination of all these factors but, first and foremost, the quality of the people who serve the hotels, starting with the general managers. It remains that, for Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, the restaurants and other food and beverage outlets of the hotels are their heart and soul. It is not just the gastronomy but all that goes with it, such as superb service and ambience.

Has making the reservations process easier for the end consumer, especially over the internet, helped business?
The internet made the process of reservations for the end user far easier and accessible from anywhere. Multiple internet reservations engines have mushroomed to cater for this increase in internet reservations and have naturally benefited from price reductions and competition among various hotels. International hotel chains have realised, albeit somewhat late, the benefit of dealing, via the internet, directly with the end consumer and have taken major steps in promoting their own websites with special offers such as best available rates, internet rates etc. to try and curb the influence of third party websites and drive the end consumer directly to their own website.
Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts have made considerable investments into its e-commerce activities over the last three years which are paying off in year-on-year growth of between 75 – 80 per cent in sold rooms over the Mövenpick website alone. Among others, the future will definitely include dynamic packaging that will eventually allow the end user to create their own package with airfare, ground arrangements and hotel accommodation all at once.

What are the group’s future plans for the Mövenpick brand in the region?
The company’s natural progression and development across the Middle East can be summarised in a four-tiered development strategy: to successfully open all signed projects over the coming three years; to continue developing the brand, in key Middle Eastern destinations, such as Oman, Abu Dhabi and downtown Cairo; to further develop our residence concept in key GCC destinations; and fourthly to carry the brand to India with multiple hotels and resorts in key destinations and eventually move into Asia Pacific region.

What initiatives have you taken since you took over in 1999?
I repositioned the company as a quality brand in the hospitality field, with the systematic renovation of all our hotels worldwide, revamping the brand and logo, and recruiting 37 new general managers plus executive staff to implement this strategy. The growth of both our financial results and portfolio has resulted in the doubling of the number of our hotels in five years, all of which are in the four plus and five-star categories.

What have your years with the MH&R taught you?
Do not reach for the stars; keep your feet on the ground. Growth for the sake of growth is nonsense and potentially hazardous for your company and its culture. This is not an ego trip, just a business trip!

To sum up, after 25 years in the business, what are the lessons you have learnt, both as a person and as a professional?
In the end, it is only the people who make the difference.

What personal goals are ahead of you?
Grow the reputation of Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts as the preferred Swiss hotel management company with Swiss roots and gastronomy expertise and keep on increasing the financial returns for the owners of our hotels and our shareholders.